San Manuel Tribe Pulls Out of PokerStars Coalition, Shifts CA Online Poker Debate

Days after a California lawmaker publicly stated that the online poker debate there has been shelved indefinitely, a key tribal organization has once again reshuffled the proverbial deck.

According to an Online Poker Report article dated April 26, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians has ended its participation in a PokerStars-led coalition of California online poker stakeholders.

As one tribal executive – who chose to remain anonymous – revealed to Online Poker Report, the San Manuel’s decision represents a significant adjustment for all involved:

“This is a titanic shift in the landscape.”

In an email exchange with Dave Palermo of Online Poker Report, the San Manuel’s executive director of public affairs Jacob Coin revealed that the tribe withdrew from the coalition sometime in March.

Coin attributed the tribe’s decision to a decade of prolonged legislative gridlock, one which has seen the San Manuel’s efforts to support PokerStars’ re-entrance to the California market consistently stalled. Per Coin’s appraisal of the situation, nine years of lobbying local legislators has taken its toll on the tribe’s limited resources:

“Because this effort has taken so long and required so much tribal effort and attention … San Manuel has decided to turn to other tribal issues at this time and has thus terminated its participation in the coalition.”

Even so, Coin was quick to provide assurances to supporters of the PokerStars coalition, stating that the San Manuel’s removal shouldn’t be interpreted as an outright reversal of policy:

San Manuel wishes every success to the remaining coalition members and appreciates the fine and effective working relationship it has had with all of them. No inferences of any kind should be drawn from its decision to withdraw from the coalition.”

The San Manuel is just one of 60 tribal organizations currently running casino or gambling-related enterprises within the Golden State, operating San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino near the city of Highland.

The tribe aligned itself with PokerStars in late 2014, the move coinciding with the online poker titan’s sale to Amaya.

Working alongside Commerce Casino, Hawaiian Gardens Casino, and Bicycle Casino, the San Manuel were just one of two tribes – along with the Morongo Band of Mission Indians – to officially support PokerStars’ full participation in a regulated statewide online poker industry.

One of the primary sticking points delaying progress on passing online poker remains the so-called “bad actor” dilemma, which pertains to companies like PokerStars which chose to flout the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006. Whereas major competitors like PartyPoker picked up stakes and restricted access to American customers altogether, PokerStars remained as a US-facing site until the Department of Justice (DOJ) seized its domain on “Black Friday” in 2011.

According to supporters of bad actor protections, PokerStars gained an unfair competitive advantage within the California market during those five years of unopposed service in the state. To remedy the situation, various solutions have been proposed, including a five-year penalty period which would force PokerStars to sit out, seven- and eight-figure fines of various size, and other ostensible punishments.

PokerStars set to work garnering support among California’s disparate collection of online poker stakeholders, forming the aforementioned coalition to present a unified lobbying front.

But with the departure of the San Manuel, the world’s leading online poker platform now counts just a single California tribe in the Morongo among its supporters.

The strength of PokerStars’ coalition has also been eroded recently by news of federal investigations into both Bicycle Casino and Hawaiian Gardens Casino – cases which may have motivated the San Manuel, according to an anonymous tribal source who spoke with Online Poker Report:

“Three-fifths of that coalition has had serious legal issues. It’s good to see San Manuel extricate itself from that disaster.”